Jonny grew up in a small town in New Jersey that wasn’t known for much, except that it had retained and maintained its colonial architecture and that the great American landscape painter George Innes had resided there sometime during the 1860s. That didn’t bother Jonny much because Jonny didn’t identify with a small-town East Coast staid mentality anyway. Like many East Coasters of his generation and many generations before him, Jonny saw his spiritual centre out west. Sometimes, when the world in which you live seems foreign or alienating, you’ve got to create a new one no matter how abstract, inane or crazy it might seem to be. So he penned a song that transported his soul into the hard drinking, gun-slinging world of the Wild West. It didn’t matter that America now had a unifying national football league and that Dallas, Texas had an excellent reputation for its Vietnamese cuisine. Jonny’s West moved beyond such mundanities and revealed a core of untamed individualism that didn’t just inspire other isolated East Coast men; it inspired an entire world.
The whole song was a masterpiece from start to finish but, as with all great works of poetry, there is often one line that captures the zeitgeist. Like a verse from The Bible… like a branch lying low off a tree… it just begged to be grabbed and hung onto. Fourteen words; sometimes that’s all it takes:
“I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride, I’m wanted. Dead or Alive.”
The song touched millions and found its way into the ears of a budding film actor, director and producer named Emilio. For Emilio – who was also an East Coast boy – it wasn’t so much the songs mythical geographic location that he identified with but rather the rebellious “do it your own way” ideology that permeated every facet of the work, from its lyrics to the pure and contemplative riffs that wound through the song.
Emilio approached Jonny right away and told him that he wanted to collaborate; he wanted the song to be the soundtrack of his new movie. Jonny, of course, was over the moon but, as with all great artistic collaborations (just think Liza Minelli and Dudley Moore in Arthur), great art takes great pain.
Over a beer in a honky tonk Jonny told Emilio that it didn’t feel right putting the song in his new movie. Emilio nearly freaked. He was like, “you brought me all this way just to pull out, what are you some kind of cock-tease?”. Jonny told him to just slow down, that he had something else in mind, something better, something that could build upon the mythology of the first song and take it to the next level. He pushed a napkin across the table. It was covered in what appeared to be the scrawlings of an infant child or a madman. While many would have brushed it aside, Emilio knew better. He picked it up and read the first line out loud. “Blaze of Glory”, he said.
He didn’t need to read the rest, sometimes you just know when you’ve encountered something special. It’s a feeling. It’s in your gut. You just know.
Mark Shorter is Runway’s Guest Blogger for Issue#27 OUTSIDE.